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Are Car Washes Bad in the Winter?

One of the biggest questions when it comes to automotives is, "Are car washes bad in the winter?" Well, let's find out...

Many people worry that washing their car in the winter, whether it's the greatest pickup truck or coolest minivan, will be of harm to their vehicle's paint or windows. Others believe that washing their car in the winter isn't necessary with all of the snow, rain, and general moisture in the air.

The latter point is wrong, and well, the former is correct but only in some cases. But did you know that there is a right way and a wrong way to keep your car clean in the colder months? 

Let's tackle the question of "are car washes bad in the winter?" as we talk about how you can manage to wash your car without coming across issues along the way and why it's important for you to so do.

Protecting Your Vehicle During the Winter

Even before winter is in full force, you can already begin to protect your car from snow and ice and other elements. Failing to do so can damage your car quicker. There's only so much a vehicle can handle over the years.

The best way to protect your vehicle in the cold weather is to scrub your car and give it a good wax job before winter fully hits. The main reason to do this is to provide an extra layer over your car's paint job for further protection from the damaging aspects of nature.

Wax jobs have other benefits besides protecting your car's paint job:

  • Hides small scratches or minor blemishes
  • Prevents oxidation that even premium quality car paints will deal with (especially in very sunny regions and/or where road salt is used)
  • Decreases chance of rusting
  • Reduces the chances of tiny rocks and other debris from scratching your vehicle when driving at faster speeds
  • Gives your car a shiny finish
  • Allows your vehicle to stay cleaner longer

Especially during the winter, it is important that when waxing to focus on the region behind your car's tires, the quarter panels, and the front grille as a way to protect your car from road salt. These are the areas most prone to collecting snow and ice along with road salt, which can cause rust if not removed in a timely manner. 

It's recommended to wax your vehicle three to four times a year for best results or at least twice a year. Your best bet is to apply this yourself at home as it can be much more expensive to get it done professionally. However, a detail shop can do the dirty work for you.

Not everyone waxes their vehicle, sometimes ever, but when you live in an area that gets exceptionally cold in the winters, your car will be thankful for it.

Washing Your Car Right

Besides adding extra protection to your vehicle, knowing how to hand wash your car in cold weather is incredibly important, especially when there is snow and ice in the picture. A clean car is a happy car. If you want your car to last as long as possible, the right care and maintenance is vital.

The washing process is fairly straight forward. Use warm water, soap, and a mitt or sponge. We advise that you opt for a low pressure hose to help eliminate road salt in the tightest of spaces. If there is snow and ice on your vehicle, add baking soda as a quick way to de-ice your car.

After washing and rinsing, it's time to dry your vehicle. During the winter, your best bet is to NOT let your car air-dry, but rather, take the time to pat it dry with a towel. Allowing your car to air dry can result in frozen locks or doors, making it difficult to get in/out of your vehicle temporarily.

Once your vehicle is dry, it's a good idea, but not required, to re-wax your car. You can do this easily with a rag. Make sure that within and around doors that you dry these regions especially to avoid excess water buildup. You may need to use a hairdryer to ensure the wax sticks better.

Know that it's important to wash your vehicle at least once every 10 days even during the winter, preferably in the daytime when it's at least 40 degrees Fahrenheit outside.

What to Avoid with Winter Car Washing

So, we've discussed what you should be doing in terms of keeping your car clean and spiffy, but now we must discuss what to avoid when cleaning your car in cold weather.

First of all, avoid cleaning your car when the temperature is below freezing and/or will be for the next few days or so. The risks of something freezing or getting damaged will be higher. 

That said, instead, scrape ice or push off snow from your vehicle in the meantime, that is, until the temperature is over 32 degrees Fahrenheit. It's also a good idea to place towels or cardboard over your windshield to protect them from the frost.

Also, if you prefer to have professional car washes, know that not every type of car wash will be safe for your vehicle during the winter. Let's learn more about some of the types of car washes out there:

  • Touchless tunnel: These have very high pressure hoses and usually don't contain hand towel drying, which can potentially freeze your doors shut.
  • Soft touch tunnel: While safer than touchless, soft touch car washes often do not have staff members to help try excess water from your vehicle to ensure parts don't freeze in the cold weather.

Other types of car washes include full service and gas station type touchless.

Ideally, bring a towel with you if you do decide to go to a professional car wash, so you can park and dry off excess water when you are finished.

Here are some other precautions to keep in mind when you wash your car during the winter:

  • Avoid using a high pressure hose.
  • To prevent your vehicle from freezing, run your car for about a half hour before washing and a half hour afterward.
  • Do not apply waxes or polishes during below-freezing temperatures.
  • If your car has frozen locks, do not try to force or pry the door open. Let it unfreeze on its own.

Final Answer

To answer the question, "Are car washes bad in the winter?" the answer is no. During the winter, maintaining and washing your car is still integral. 

However, there are just different ways of doing so and additional things to avoid to allow your vehicle to retain its value such as ensuring you clean your car more often and wax your vehicle to keep it cleaner longer.

Knowing how to clean your car right the first time around can also help avoid the formation of rust, frozen locks, and other car-related issues. While winter is still a while away (unless you live in the southern hemisphere), you can never be too prepared for what is to come.

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